Archive for Gene Hackman

A Mess o’ Flowers

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on March 13, 2018 by dcairns

Was talking to my first year students about editing. Showed them a robbery scene from BONNIE AND CLYDE. Probably didn’t say as much as I could’ve, but the clip was well received, and the first question, from two separate sources at once, was “What’s the name of that film again?” because they immediately wanted to SEE the whole thing.

Which has to be good. And if you’re shocked that they didn’t already know it, remember they’re young, they haven’t had the chance to see everything.

(If you want to get angry at anyone, the BBC and Channel 4 would be suitable targets for their willfully falling down on the job of introducing their audience to great cinema.)

I introduced the film’s stars with their names and the words “And the Oscar goes to…” because that is likely to remain the principal recognition factor for those actors for a little while, but they WILL live it down…

Why this scene? Well, Dede Allen’s cutting of the robbery itself is masterful, with the tautness of each movement, the sparse soundtrack a series of steps and clicks and thuds with dead air between, creating a sense of a tense but very METHODICAL operation being undertaken.

(Gene Hackman was recognised as someone who was grumpy to Wes Anderson.)

And then the car chase — the music being an existing recording rather than a specially made score, simply dropped into place and cut in and out of as required. The fast-and-loose continuity, designed to get a sense of life and jeopardy and velocity into the ponderous movements of aged vehicles. I didn’t have to point out the moment when one camera operator jerks sideways as a jalopy gets a little TOO close for comfort (Objects in Wide Angle Lens May Be Closer Than They Appear).

And the recklessly bold interruption of the chase with cutaways to the bank where witnesses are being interviewed by the papers: sudden silent static shots interrupting the flow of the chase with TOTAL RUDENESS, bringing things to a momentary standstill, seemingly slamming the brakes on every aspect of the tone and pace the sequence is otherwise trying to achieve. And yet, it’s absolutely right. Because the filmmakers have decided, for the sake of the story, that robbing banks is exciting and fun. And the bank scenes are hilarious.

“There I wuz, staring into the face of DEATH.”

“All I can say is, they did right by me, an’ I’m bringin’ me a mess o’ flowers to their funeral.”

By the second interruption, it’s no longer an interruption but part of the peculiar rhythm of the piece, which behaves like a game of musical chairs. The brutal treatment of the music is probably the main survival of the early notion of Jean-Luc Godard directing the picture.

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Plasterworks of the cinema

Posted in FILM, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , on September 2, 2016 by dcairns

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Last week I had the great pleasure of interviewing production designer Leslie Dilley on the set of kids’ TV show Teacup Travels. Les designed James Cameron’s THE ABYSS, and as art director worked on Richard Lester’s THE THREE MUSKETEERS/THE FOUR MUSKETEERS, as well as STAR WARS and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, ALIEN, SUPERMAN… not to mention his being one of the whistlers in BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, which is the one that made my jaw drop.

The interview was fun, but the conversation afterwards was even better — of course, I wasn’t recording that. But Les relaxed and told a couple of stories of mishaps, both ironically centered around the craft speciality that was his entrée into the film business — plastering. And both involving Gene Hackman movies.

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On LUCKY LADY (Stanley Donen, 1975), Les was working with his mentor Norman Reynolds, and had the job of preparing sheeted several corpses which had to be flung off the side of a boat. I’m not sure if this scene made it into the movie, as I gather three different endings were shot. Les prepared nine or ten chickenwire frames and plastered them over to make good, realistically heavy corpses. But he was rather worried that the Mexican extras who had to commit these remains to the sea might not by hefty enough to actually get them over the side — they were all quite little fellows.

Donen called action and Les hid below-decks, listening nervously. Splash. Splash. He began to relax — evidently the diminutive Hispanic seamen were managing their task with aplomb. Splash. Splash. Then — disaster — sudden hilarity. Generally the very effect you want to avoid in a funeral at sea.

Rushing on deck, Les learned the cause of the laughter — the plaster corpses were bobbing to the surface, one after the other. Despite being extremely heavy, they all contained enough air to be buoyant, something Les had never learned at school.

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The laws of physics will trip the filmmaker up every time. Les ended up skipping RETURN OF THE JEDI to do EUREKA, since he was very interested in working with Nic Roeg. For this movie, he built a tree that Gene Hackman has to sit under in the Klondyke. The tree was constructed at a studio in Vancouver and shipped up north to the snowy climes for assembly on location. All the branches slotted into the trunk perfectly, according to Les’s prepared diagram, and Les secured them with plaster and scrim, working in progressively colder sub-zero temperatures as the evening wore on. They were absolutely solid when he left.

But then he got a call. Gene Hackman had been filmed at his little prospector’s campfire under the tree, and had narrowly escaped being brained by a falling plaster branch.

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What had happened was that as the temperature got insanely low, the plaster had stopped bonding, since the water content of it would freeze before the plaster was dry. This ice would have still done the job and held the branches in place, probably securely enough for people to climb the tree if they’d wanted, except that the heat from Hackman’s fire had risen up the tree and started them thawing.

The lesson: people on movies are always doing strange things under pressure of time, such as building plaster trees in arctic conditions, and this is exactly how accidents happen… and it’s the things you know perfectly well how to do that will suddenly turn treacherous in these circumstances.

 

High Tec

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on July 7, 2015 by dcairns

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THE FRENCH CONNECTION II is a pretty good follow-up, really. Different enough from the original (we’re in France, the whole time, for one thing) it still has enough of the same grime (Marseille gives good grime), loud, incoherent sound, and surliness to feel like a continuation. Instead of a car chase, it has a foot chase at the end, and a loooong sequence where Gene Hackman’s ghastly Popeye Doyle gets forcibly shot up with skag by the baddies and then has to undergo a gruelling cold turkey in a French police cell. You almost feel sorry for him.

As Doyle’s opposite number, Bernard Fresson, that strange hybrid bull/bulldog/bullfrog is grumpy and leaden enough to make a good foil for the ugly American in his midst (if one man can be said to have a “midst” — and if any one man can, that man is surely Fresson).

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Ah, Popeye Doyle. The movie gets a lot of mileage out of his complete refusal to comprehend that French people speak French, a language containing several different words from English. And that slang expressions travel less well than simple, clear speech.

Gene Hackman probably had a better time on this one than on the original, since his star was rising and Frankenheimer generally looked after his stars (while yelling, crimson-faced at everyone else). William Friedkin had told him, “I wouldn’t even hire you to play Gene Hackman,” and he meant it to sting. Still, Hackman is put through his paces, here, what with the sweltering foot chase through the streets and docks, the cold turkey, and having to explain things to French bartenders. The movie could be usefully augmented by an insert of a cardiogram in the bottom left corner monitoring how close Popeye/Gene is getting to explosive infarction from one moment to the next.

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